Senator tries to keep hope alive for spring training baseball

03/12/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Spring training is in full force in ballparks spread out throughout the Tampa Bay area, and will be for the rest of the month. But when the Cincinnati Reds pack up and head north to Ohio for the regular season, it will be their last time in Sarasota.

The Reds will train next year in Goodyear, Arizona.

Currently, Sarasota holds $1 million in escrow through legislation passed in 2006 for hosting the Reds. They are one of 10 cities in the state receiving money to maintain spring training sites.

Earlier this week, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, went before the Senate Commerce Committee to ask that the county be allowed to retain that funding.

City Commissioner Kelly Kirchner says he believes there’s still hope for the community to recruit another team to play in Sarasota soon.

The city and county of Sarasota have been involved in a fruitless effort over the past couple of years to retain the Reds. But voters rejected a proposal for a new stadium, and efforts at refurbishing the current structure, Ed Smith Stadium, were unsuccessful, as were efforts to woo the Boston Red Sox from Fort Myers.

Kirschner said he has designs on another team: the Baltimore Orioles.

Florida’s Grapefruit League used to be the dominant home for Major League Baseball spring training over Arizona. But aggressive efforts have persuaded several teams to leave the Sunshine State for the west in recent years, with the Reds to be the latest.

Detert says it is time to reverse the process.

Attendance is down nearly 20 percent this season for teams in Arizona, but several teams Florida – not the Tampa Bay Rays – have also shown attendance drops of close to 15 to 20 percent this year. However, the Commissioner’s office says overall, attendance is actually up 2 percent.

Detert says she’s not a baseball fan herself, but clearly believes Sarasota will miss having a team playing in March next season.

Detert told the Sarasota Herald Tribune earlier this week she’d love to see the community try to pick off the Chicago Cubs from their home in Mesa, Arizona.

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